Lion-headed eagle pendant, Tall Hariri
In early 1987, Syrian national security encompassed a wide
range of issues. Military and political problems were created by
the deployment of around 25,000 troops to Lebanon and by Syria's
ambitious attempt to attain strategic parity with Israel. Whether
President Hafiz al Assad and his primarily Alawi civilian and
military advisers would be able to maintain Syria's unprecedented
period of continuous political rule was a further consideration.
During the 1980s, the Syrian armed forces gained greater
manpower, equipment, and operational capability--but this
improvement in quantity was not matched qualitatively. The
quality of Syria's forces remained an important national security
consideration because the Syrian military, after having suffered
defeat and loss to Israel of the Golan Heights in the June 1967
War, had faced difficult battles in the October 1973 War and the
June 1982 Lebanon War. As of 1987, prospects for future SyrianIsraeli hostility had not lessened.
As part of Syria's quest to improve its armed forces, in 1987
the Soviet Union continued large shipments of military equipment,
including some of the most modern items in the Soviet arsenal.
However, financial and military aid from traditional Arab sources
declined, primarily because of the fall in Arab oil revenues.
Decreased aid was also caused by Syria's increasingly
confrontational role in regional affairs, including its support
of Iran in the Gulf War and its association with the radical Shia
groups that have emerged as a threat to the stability of Muslim
Arab regimes. Syria's continued presence in the Lebanese quagmire
further contributed to diminished Arab assistance. Moreover,
Syria's "peacekeeping mission" in Lebanon, to which the Arab
states had agreed, had grown detrimental to the morale of its
armed forces and had weakened Syria's defensive and offensive
capability vis-ŕ-vis its principal enemy, Israel.
However, in early 1987, Syria's perception of threats to its
national security extended beyond Israel. To the east, Iraq
remained a rival for ideological leadership and political power
within the Baath movement
(see Political Dynamics
, ch. 4).
For many years the two countries had been embroiled in vitriolic
propaganda warfare and internal subversion, and, with the
outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, Syria actively supported Iran. To
the west, the government perceived as a threat the emergence in
Lebanon of either a radical Muslim state or a Christian-dominated
state aligned with Israel. Major internal threats included
sectarian rivalry within Syria's many communities
, ch. 2). Syria's long history of coups d'état also
caused concern to a government that had itself achieved power in
November 1970 through a military coup. Fear of a coup was
demonstrated by maintenance of powerful internal security
services and a praetorian guard.
Because of the ever-present threats to Syria's national
security, both domestic and external, and its ties to the Soviet
Union, information about Syria's military and police affairs is
severely limited. However, national security concerns, which have
played a central role since Syrian independence in 1946, clearly
pervade the society and its economic and political activities.
Data as of April 1987